Why is it that I have had
a month-and-a-half writer's block about this simple column? Maybe
it's because I have different ways of dealing with my mood swings
than the ways that Ricardo Martinelli handles his. My initial instinct would be to let loose a torrent of
angry, vulgar abuse. Had I done that, people would be able to compare
my tone to that of the president's intemperate address to the
National Assembly and the Panamanian people. But I write
having slept on the subject matter for more than a month, so my anger, unlike Martinelli's, is at least contained.
The Martinelli administration is
living in a fantasy bubble, into which it has dragged almost all of
our public institutions and about 20 percent of the Panamanian
people. Nothing makes it clearer than the mining issue, and after the
second major confrontation with the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca about the
subject, the Martinelistas' divorce from reality becomes all the more
apparent. They may yet be able to marginalize Silvia Carrera and
impose their will on her constituents, but they will never recover
their lost credibility.
But what set off my rage,
and then became so depressing that I didn't want to write about it,
was not about Cerro Colorado or the comarca, it was about what the
theoretically independent courts and an allegedly autonomous
authority did about something far away from the comarca, the Canadian multinational Inmet's mining
concession in Colon's Donoso district. (Here they do business as
Minera Panama, a local subsidiary, which calls its project the Cobre
On December 27, the
Supreme Court rejected Inmet's lawsuit to strike down the 1997 law
which made the area in which the mine is being developed a protected national forest. However, the court
did not order the company to cease and desist from its operations.
Ignoring the very essence of what a protected area means, it left it
to the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) to decide what the
company may or may not do.
The following day, ANAM
approved Inmet's environmental plan. That is, it approved the
deforestation of 22 square miles of jungle, followed by the digging
of three huge pits and treatment of the rocks extracted from those
pits with caustic chemicals to dissolve the copper and molybdenum in
them so that those raw materials may be shipped off and turned into
manufactured goods somewhere else.
No harm, no foul,
ANAM ruled. It was shocking if not unexpected. It was an astounding
mockery of both Mother Nature and the intelligence of the Panamanian
Let us not blame the high
court. Let us not blame the miserable second-rate functionary who
heads ANAM. On second thought, let's do hold them accountable, but
with the understanding that they were following the orders of one
Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal. In the future, as the magistrates and
ANAM director are run out of public life in disgrace, they ought to
be allowed at least that mitigating factor in their defense.
But they will tell us
that this means jobs. They accuse the environmentalists who object to a
22-square-mile hole in the Meso-American Bilological Corridor and
the local residents who object to the poisoning of the streams and
shorelines where they fish of being so unpatriotic as to oppose national
development and jobs. And if you look at Inmet's website, the company does say
that the mine will create 176 jobs.
deception and demagoguery here are breathtaking. And for what?
Assuming that free
elections are allowed in 2014 and that current trends hold, it will
all be for naught. Cambio Democratico may rig the courts to allow
Martinelli to seek another term or may run somebody else, either
Guillermo Ferrufino or another member of the president's inner
circle, but if there is an honest vote count any of those
possibilities would lose very badly. The Panameñistas
will run Juan Carlos Varela, whose former alliance with Martinelli
has put a permanent stain on his ambitions for the future. The front
runner now and likely winner in the 2014 presidential race is Juan
Carlos Navarro, who is against mining. The campaign will be mostly
about Martinelli's totalitarian assault on all institutions in
Panamanian society, but the most prominent policy issue will be
mining, which Navarro opposes.
of Inmet's destruction is already done and by the 2014 elections
almost all of the deforestation will have been accomplished. However,
the actual production of copper and molybdenum for export is not
scheduled to begin until 2015. The next administration is likely to
flat-out prohibit it. It is likely that Inmet is going to get an
international lawsuit against Panama rather than a producing mine out
of this process.